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After Egyptian court bans Muslim Brotherhood and freezes their assets, Egyptian military successfully changes the narrative to paint the Brotherhood as terrorists

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Tuesday, Egyptian police raided a Cairo Islamist stronghold looking for suspects in the killing of five policemen. And the day before, an Egyptian court ordered a ban on all Muslim Brotherhood activities and froze its assets. This is the latest push against the Brotherhood since the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Now joining us to discuss all this is Mohamed Elmeshad. He is a Cairo-based independent journalist who wrote for Egypt Independent.

Thanks for being with us, Mohamed.


DESVARIEUX: So, Mohamed, we have dozens of Muslim Brotherhood senior figures who have been detained for inciting violence, and we have hundreds of people who’ve demanded Morsi’s reinstatement, most of them Brotherhood members who have been killed in clashes with security forces, and they’ve been portraying this crackdown as being against terrorism. Now with this latest ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, does this really come as much of a surprise for you?

ELMESHAD: Well, no, Jessica. To be honest, I was waiting for when this would happen. However, this ban, I mean, you need to look at it more closely, because it seems like from a lot of perspectives, including very anti-Muslim Brotherhood perspectives, that legally it probably won’t stand the test of time, I mean, won’t stand at least a bunch of legal tests. [incompr.] the very prominent constitutional judge, came out yesterday–very prominent, actually, old-school constitutional judge who is very anti-Muslim Brotherhood–came and said that he doesn’t know how this court thought it had the jurisdiction to actually issue this ban, and he thinks that it will be canceled, it will be annulled, the ruling.

However, looking at, actually, the general trajectory of things, it’s not surprising at all that the Muslim Brotherhood would be banned, there would be an attempt to ban them to juridically, because what’s one of the first things that the interim prime minister said is that–Hazem Al Beblawi, is that along with the minister of social solidarity, which looks into the NGO statuses in general, they would review the legal status of the Muslim Brotherhood, which we have to remember was only existent for about a year. They only registered as a legal entity last year. They have been an illegal entity for over the past–around 60 years, since 1954, some say since 1949, when it’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, was shot.

DESVARIEUX: So you’re saying that they were already considered to be illegal. So this decision, do you think it’s going to really weigh in on this whole political debate happening in this country? Is this going to further polarize the two sides?

ELMESHAD: Well, the point was they were considered illegal before the past year. What happened since the Revolution, since the January 25 Revolution, was that the Brotherhood were trying to establish themselves legally. So initially what happened was they formed the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the Freedom and Justice Party, which they insist is not officially attached to the Brotherhood and which their leaders say shouldn’t even be considered as part of this ruling. And then they instated themselves as a civil society group, an NGO. And that’s where the ruling comes in is that these groups, which–Egypt has one of the most stringent NGO laws in the Middle East. They’re not allowed to have any sort of political affiliation. And there’s also a lot of regulations that have to do with the funding. So they claim that this group is engaged in politics.

As for the polarization, the polarization is increasing outside of all of this, outside of all of the legal proceedings. If you–a quick look at the meeting has–and if you look at any sort of private station, on the top left or right corner of any screen you’ll see, in English letters, usually, Egypt fighting terrorism. The narrative being portrayed in almost all media outlets, all sanctioned media outlets, is that that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and that what’s happening now is a struggle for the identity of what it is to be Egyptian. And if you look at the majority of the media outlets, it’s that the Brotherhood and its members at its supporters are not Egyptian. And so the level of–like, the grassroots polarization is happening on a totally different–sort of using completely different schematics.

As for, you know, whether or not their legal status will affect their position, I mean, I don’t think [incompr.] they’ve been illegal for the past–like we were saying, for over 60 years, and its members are used to working in the shadows. They actually–you know, arguably, that’s when they thrive and that’s when they garner the most amount of political support. So maybe it’ll increase sympathy.

But I doubt that people in general, I doubt that the streets in general are at a point where they’re sympathizing for the Brotherhood because of their legal status. I think any sympathy they’re gaining or any of the polarization is whether or not the crackdowns that are happening against its members and whether or not the killings that happened in the streets were sanctioned, were in any way in tune with the basic human rights that we hope would have been more fine-tuned in the Egyptian police force over the past period but were obviously not. So that’s where I think the streets and activists are getting polarized.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Just really quickly, Mohamed, do you see the majority of Egyptians actually backing the military in all of this? Are they buying this what you called propaganda that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and things of that nature? What do you make of all that?

ELMESHAD: Well, what I make of it is–I mean, this will take, like, more of a psychoanalyst. But I think that Egyptians now are actually grappling with this concept of fear and this fear of the unknown and where we’re going as a country. If you see–the Columbia University study showed Egypt as one of the most unhappiest countries in the world. I think they rank, like, 130 out of 150. So this concept of, like, a sort of a downward spiral–the economy has been in shambles, hasn’t looked up at all since 2011. The, I mean, politics, we all see what’s happening in politics, the divisions. Morsi–the Muslim Brotherhood had a heavy hand in promoting sort of sectarianism. Morsi allied himself with groups that have actually terrorized (in ways that they admitted) the Egyptians over the past few years.

So the immediate aftereffect of Morsi’s overthrow and the demonstrations that happened indicate that yes, Egyptians are buying into the military narrative and the narrative that what’s happening now is for the best of the country, is for the betterment of the country and for national unity. However, as time progressives, you see a lot of the people who want Morsi out, a lot of the activists–I wouldn’t say on a grassroots level, but a lot of the activists are starting to come out and speak about how this actually–this negates everything that Egypt and many of the people who engaged in the January Revolution were fighting for, which is basic human rights for all, which is a more inclusive method of engaging in politics.

DESVARIEUX: Okay, just hang tight. We’re going to have an extended version of this interview if our viewers are interested in watching it, and we’ll be talking about the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in all of this and get into, of course, more American foreign policy.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mohamed.

ELMESHAD: Thank you, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Mohamed Elmeshad is an independent journalist based in Cairo and former reporter for Al-Masry Al-Youm's  Egypt Independent. He graduated in 2006 with a B.S. in Economics and a Minor in Journalism from the George Washington University.  He worked in Benin as a Peace Corps Volunteer between 2006-2008 where he focused on Small Enterprise Development and other educational projects.  This was followed by two years as a Corporate Analyst at a Private Equity firm in Bahrain.